“Thrill Switch” is equal parts “Ready Player One” and “Silence of the Lambs” with a sprinkling of “Altered Carbon” for good measure. You have detective Ada Byron who has become an expert on Jazlin Switch, a notorious serial killer who managed to murder people in the real world by destroying their avatar in the virtual space known as the Holos. Ada has dedicated her life to studying Switch and becoming a cop all because Switch killed her father seven years ago. Now there’s a new killer out there copying Switch’s style, but are they really? Ada has to face her fears and stop more people from dying, but in order to do that she needs to team up with Holo “native” and FBI agent, Joon, and venture back into the Holos, a place she hasn’t been to since her father died. Worse yet, she may need Switch’s help in order to unravel the conspiracy this new killer is at the center of. Hawkin does an excellent job blending a virtual MMO style world with a real, vaguely dystopian Las Vegas in order to craft a violent and thrilling (heh) cat and mouse murder mystery. This was a fast-paced futuristic crime and mystery story, but was light on the procedural investigation aspect, so take that as you will.
There’s a lot going on for such a short novel; you have an immersive cyberpunk-esque world and all the science fiction that entails, plus a virtual reality MMO style virtual space where the question of morality is front and center (should you be allowed to live out whatever dark fantasy you have because you aren’t ACTUALLY hurting anyone?), and also an overt look at what happens when capitalism truly dictates laws and politics. All this plays into a murder mystery where policymaking and conspiracies abound, and at the center you have a foul-mouthed detective who, while she has some great and really funny one-liners, sometimes read as too juvenile for the position she held, even when partnered with the serious Joon. Because of that, she didn’t feel like much of a detective to me, and since I am a big fan of true crime and police procedurals, that suspension of disbelief was hard for me to fully embrace but that’s just a personal preference of mine.
The ”Altered Carbon” aspect of this book comes in with the use of avatars and having people entering the Holo’s fully synced, meaning that they feel and experience this virtual space as realistically as the real world, often blurring reality to where the Holos feels more real than anything else. It reminded me a lot of the “stacks” used in Altered Carbon as there is a level of carelessness some people use with their avatars and keeping them safe or abusing others because the avatar can be swapped like a pair of shoes. It brought up a lot of really interesting discussions around online spaces and the extremes of anarchy when you don’t have the consequences of “one life”. Because of that, if you are sensitive to on page torture or implied sexual violence, read this book with some caution as Hawkin does not hold back in that regard. I just wish I connected to the main detective more to really scratch that itch I was hoping for in a crime and mystery sci-fi novel, hence the 4 stars. But this book was still a lot of fun and a great for anyone who is a fan of crime and mystery sci-fi novels with a cyberpunk flare! And thank you to the author for sending me a copy for an honest review!
Click the book images to see them on Amazon!